Carl Zeiss

Carl Zeiss T*

The Foundation

1846-1890 | 1891-1945 | 1946-1960 | 1961-1975 | 1976-1995 |


Friedrich Otto Schott  Ernst Abbe

The River Saale still flows through the German industrial town of Jena, home of the Carl Zeiss Foundation. Jena is a town, like the river, that has remained unchanged by the flow of the centuries.

An extracted related contributing article from Contax Gallery, Malaysia

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It was here, in 1846, that Herr Zeiss began his workshop, making high quality magnifying glasses for the faculty of Jena University. From humble beginnings these Carl Zeiss Works grew into one of the largest and most prestigious optical companies in the world.

Carl Zeiss was born in Weimar, Thuringia States on, September 11, 1816. His father was plant manger of a turnery on Weimar Court. Carl attended school and finished the sixth form at the Weimar Gymnasium. Soon after, he apprenticed himself to Dr. Frederick Koerner who was investigating glass for telescope objectives. Upon completion of his apprenticeship, Carl Zeiss was employed briefly as an auditor at Jena University.

While in this position, Herr Zeiss began a study of the theory of lens manufacturing. Later Zeiss traveled for seven years visiting with glass and lens manufacturers in cities such as Stuttgart, Darmstadt, Wein, and Berlin. He made extensive notes on glass melts, materials, kiln temperatures and anything related to the manufacture of glass, microscopes and other optical instruments.

When he returned he attended Jena University where he studied chemistry and mathematics. Then in 1846 when Carl Zeiss was just 30 years old, he started his workshop at Neugasse along the gate street in Jena. Zeiss' first products were magnifying glasses and simple microscopes produced by a group of 20 employees. Production of compound microscopes began in 1858. Carl Zeiss gained a reputation for quality products and his workshop won a Golden Prize in the General Exhibition in Thuringia in 1861.

All of Carl Zeiss' work had been accomplished using empirical; i.e., trial and error production methods. It was obvious that this method of production consumed great amounts of effort and wasted large quantities of materials. Zeiss believed that a scientific approach would lead to more accurate, predictable and economic products. Herr Zeiss struggled, unsuccessfully, with this problem for five years. Eventually, in 1866, he paid a visit to Jena University where he met with Ernst Abbe, then a lecturer at Jena.

Ernst Karl Abbe was born January 23, 1840 in Eisenach, Grand Duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. Abbe secured a scholarship and graduated from Goettengen University at the age of 21. In 1863 he joined the University of Jena where he rose to become professor of physics and mathematics in 1870. He became director of astronomical and meteorological observatories in 1878. Abbe joined Zeiss' workshop in 1866 as Research Director and the two set out to produce a scientific under-pinning for optical products. Finally in 1872, after six years of work producing new types of optical glass, their labor produced a compound microscope of unparalleled quality. This instrument is the progenetor of all modern compound microscopes in use today.

One year after beginning the manufacture of the Carl Zeiss compound microscope, in 1873, Herr Abbe released a scientific paper describing the mathematics leading to the perfection of this wonderful invention. For the first time in optical design, aberration, diffraction and coma were described and understood. Abbe described the optical process so well that this paper has become the foundation upon which much of our understanding of optical science rests today. As a reward for his efforts Carl Zeiss made Abbe a partner in his burgeoning business in 1876.

The third member of the team that created the Carl Zeiss company was invited by Abbe, in 1879, to join him and Zeiss in the continuing effort to improve the microscope. Freidrick Otto Schott was investigating the use of lithium in a new type optical glass and he wrote to Dr. Abbe describing his progress. Abbe immediately became interested and tested the glass, returning high praise to Schott for his development. The two met and quickly formed a bond that would last the rest of their lives. Schott produced the glass exclusively for the new Carl Zeiss microscopes and in 1884 a full scale factory was established. It was owned by Carl Zeiss, Ernst Abbe and Freidrick Otto Schott, called the Schott & Genossen Glass Works, of Jena. Schott developed over 100 different types of optical glass and additionally, many types of decorative and functional glass. Jena glass became the most famous glass in all the world.

Dr. Ernst Abbe was a man of varied interests and one of those interests was the social improvement cause. When in 1888, Carl Zeiss died, his will bequeathed his interests in the Carl Zeiss company to his son Roderick. The younger Herr Zeiss sold all of his interests in the company to Ernst Abbe who, one year later, in 1889, created the Carl Zeiss Foundation. This foundation established a new group as the owners of Carl Zeiss. The greater portion of the assets were deeded to the University of Jena, whose Department of Education managed the universities interests. This authority was bound by a set of statutes drawn up by Abbe himself, after studying sociology and law for two years. The balance of the estate was donated to the employees of Carl Zeiss. This humane treatment of workers was indeed unusual at the end of the 19th century. Herr Abbe also prescribed statutes for the employees to follow and benefit from. Paid vacations, sick pay, the eight hour day, invalid and old age pensions for workers and their families, representation to management, banishment of racial discrimination, religion, politics or mode of domestic life and others were mandated by Abbe's gift.

That Dr. Ernst Abbe was a genius is beyond dispute. The list of accomplishments in diverse fields is very long but thankfully for photography and optical science he devoted most of his life to the understanding of optical systems and the production of practical products that contributed to modern photography and microscopy.

Dr. Abbe deduced the reason why definition was reduced with the reduction of aperture size of a lens. Today we know the phenomena as the diffraction effect. He calculated how to build a lens without spherical aberration by combining geometry and specially formulated optical glass. He also explained the phenomenom of coma. The correction for coma today is the application of Abbe's sine condition. Further, Abbe is responsible for introducing fluorite into lens design to correct for chromatic aberration. The culmination of research in the elimination of chromatic aberration lead Abbe to the development of apo-chromatic lenses.

Abbe invented the sub-stage condenser illumination system used in microscopes today. Other inventions were a crystal refractometer and in collaboration with Armand Fizeau, Abbe invented an optical dilatometer for measuring the thermal expansion of solids. These accomplishments would be enough to proclaim Abbe a genius but there's much more.

Abbe developed the system of numerical apertures still in use today as a way to express the resolving power and light gathering capacity of microscope objectives. This system allowed comparison of objectives to determine their appropriate application. He invented immersion optics for microscopes, that allowed for a higher numerical aperture by immersing the front element of the objective into water or glycerin dropped onto the microscope slide.

In 1890, the Carl Zeiss Foundation began the development and production of camera lenses. Dr. Paul Rudolph, an optical mathematician, developed the Protar as Carl Zeiss's first photographic lens. Attributes of the Protar were that it provided a normal field of view at wider open apertures and an even wider field of view with smaller apertures. There was no astigmatism or curvature of field in the Protars.

1846-1890 | 1891-1945 | 1946-1960 | 1961-1975 | 1976-1995

My favourite Contax Series: Contax RTS, Contax RTS II and Contax RTS III

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Credit: A related contributing article from Contax Gallery, Malaysia; the source of the original content was not specified (could be downloaded from Carl Zeiss website. Some sections has been modified.

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